How stress adds to my memory issues

How stress adds to my memory issues

Regardless of what any Neurosurgeon or Neurologist has told me over the last couple of years, my short-term memory has definitely been affected.  And, no it hasn’t improved as the textbooks tell “them” it should after a short period following a brain operation.

It feels like ever since my first shunt surgery, I’ve been fighting an uphill battle to remember things and I’ve even expressed just how frustrating my memory and cognitive issues have been.  However, there have been moments where a glimmer of hope was offered in a long lost memory coming to the surface.  This was a sweet surprise and probably one, which would seem insignificant to most but to me, at the time, was a god-send.

I am analytical by nature and very independent, I like to figure things out for myself.  My husband says I’m stubborn.  LOL!

I started my career as a secretary (years before diagnosis) and then moved into a more technical role doing IT support.  I learned as much as I could from my former colleagues, before they moved on to other jobs within the company.  And, in the end, I was one of 3 analysts who supported computer users in 3 of the 8 ports (including Head office), in South Africa doing Desktop and Server support.

Before we emigrated, I ran the pilot project for the main port where I was based in Port Elizabeth as well as the newly built port of Ngqura, when we moved onto a virtual platform.  It was an exciting time with a lot of new technology changes, moving from having more than 20 physical servers to only one, hosting a virtualised solution.  It was also after the last 3 surgeries I had. Thanks to my manager who had utmost faith and trust in my abilities, having known my work ethic before diagnosis, and giving me the best advice ever to be like a duck, I thrived at a snail’s pace.

When I started the job I am in currently, almost 4 years ago, I was in a memory nightmare.  So far from the person who left South Africa, that it scared me.  I would literally have people talking to me and lose what they were saying after the 3rd word out of their mouth.  It was horrible.  I felt inadequate, like a complete and utter failure and ready to throw myself in front of a train…I kid you not (this is no exaggeration).  I couldn’t understand what was happening to me and most days I wished I could just crawl under a rock and not face the world.  It was scarier going to work than anything I have ever had to do and my confidence had hit rock bottom.

I went to the GP thinking he could give me some miracle drug, I was even convinced that my Hydro was playing up and that all my headaches and memory issues, at that point in time, stemmed from it.  I had a CT scan done, a lumbar puncture with high (but “not high enough pressure” to warrant another operation) and ultimately a referral to a Neurologist who didn’t do much for me either.  She in turn referred me to a Neuropsychologist who done a series of memory tests, which all came back with me having near perfect memory.  Arghhh! I was flabbergasted because according to me, there was a problem…a HUGE one at that.

About a year later, I dreaded having my performance review because I was convinced it would all be negative and, I actually expected to be told that I wasn’t cutting it.  I expected to be fired at every turn or each time I knew I “messed up“, I would cringe thinking “What could I possibly do next to support my family?

However, that never happened and in fact, management seemed to be happy with what I was doing…I was confused but extremely grateful at the same time.  I then realised in all that time since starting the new job, I was utterly stressed and it was physically affecting me to the point of wiping out my memory!  I literally recognised moments where I would stress and saw the pattern of memory “blackouts” following immediately afterwards.  With my self-confidence being that low as well, it just added fuel to the fire and I second-guessed myself in everything.

I then decided to do something about it and put coping mechanisms in place, whatever it took simply because, I was the only one aware of what was going on.  Therefore, I was the only one who would know if what I was doing, was working or not…as long as I kept up appearances at the same time (being like a duck).  It wasn’t easy but…I managed.

I found my rhythm in my new job and carved it into something workable for me.  It was like a blank canvass, which I could turn into anything that I liked, this was an added bonus and totally unexpected.  I put processes in places that made sense to me, drawing pictures of things so that I could understand what was required of me, like workflows of certain things.  I used this to reference back or guide me if I got stuck.  In time, doing these repetitive tasks eventually helped me to commit it to memory…it took a long time, but I’m getting there.

I also made notes of every little thing, no matter how insignificant, because majority of the time, it would be the one thing I forgot.  As an example, if there’s an e-mail I need to send on a regular basis, I copy and paste the sent e-mail into my Word document so that when I need it again, I just copy/paste it into a new e-mail and change one or two minor details.  I don’t even have to think about it and this document grows with each new thing I need to do…it’s my quick reference guide and a safety net at best.

Or, trying to keep track of things, I update any changes immediately in my document or spreadsheet with a little note to guide me when I need to follow-up on something or reference back to the status of a task.  It might seem like a lot of extra effort, which it probably is, but the way I see it is that my memory will probably never be the same again (I accept that) and I will also probably have to work harder than most to get things done…and that’s OK.  If anything, I need to learn to give myself some slack!

There is also another practice that I’ve implemented to help me daily.  If someone gives me something to do, I do it straight away so that I don’t forget.  Most times I’ll have people tell me how “quick” or “efficient” I am…If only they knew that I do this purely because I might forget if I don’t.  It’s an extremely tiresome way of functioning but, it’s the best one I have for now.  The challenge comes in with the unexpected or multiple requests, these still manage to leave me feeling like a tangled mess!

I’ve also realised that I am able to access my long term memory of being a secretary to do administrative duties as well as my early technical days of doing IT support to provide a first line support service (amongst other things) to members of our team (136 people at present).  This has helped boost my confidence especially when my colleagues express their appreciation daily when I help them with something…for me, it’s the little things that count.

By helping them…I help myself!

What challenges does your daily job bring to your table and how do you cope?  Does stress affect your ability to function as an effective member of your team?


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Thank you for taking the time to read.

I blog about Hydrocephalus and Selective Mutism to give a voice to the millions of people around the world with this condition and disorder.  As much as these experiences are unique to me and my family, I’m sure others have experienced it too.  My aim…to shine a light on it and raise awareness – simple and challenging at the same time but worth it!

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